“I’m a police officer,” he said as he flipped out his badge and lifted his shirt to reveal his gun. These were the words out of the stranger’s mouth as he approached my family as we exited the Paris subway train just weeks ago.  A woman had backed into my father when we were on the subway and without him even knowing it, had put her hand deep into my father’s front pocket and taken his wallet.

The whole incident felt surreal; it was difficult to fathom why someone would do that. Why would someone perform a criminal act that victimized a stranger and risk jail time for the equivalent of $50 that my dad had in his wallet at the time. Sometimes it’s difficult to understand what motivates a person to act the way they do.  If we look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, presumably the woman was acting with the most primitive of motivations, to get money for basic needs.

We see this sometimes in corporations and organizations as well. For example, companies that are desperate to survive and financially vulnerable often start to behave more aggressively or mean than before. Unfortunately, it often ends up being counter productive because they turn people off, resulting in sales or revenue declining.

Even organizations where leaders are motivated by personal gains such as to feel loved or to belong (the middle of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) can sacrifice actions that benefit others in order to make sure that their needs are met. When people feel they need to be loved by others or to belong as their number one priority, others will sense their drive to serve themselves rather than to embrace what we have come to call servant leadership.

Think about these motivations in contrast to a company or organization where the leadership is motivated by what Maslow calls, self-actualization, the top of his hierarchy of needs. These leaders are often calm because they are motivated by ideals higher than themselves. They aren’t out for their own gain, but for causes they believe are for the greater good of humankind, like securing food and water for others in need or to conduct business in a way that develops leaders of character or inspires others to greater heights.

Take a few moments and consider what motivations drive you. Where are you in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? I hope this blog inspires you to take a step in an upward direction in the hierarchy. And, I hope along with your upward step you will feel more grounded, calm and ready to inspire others.

P.S: Thanks to the heroic undercover police officers in the Paris subway, my dad’s wallet was returned intact and the woman was arrested.